Syphilis in the News

I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very very
mad world mad world – Roland Orzabal, Mad World 


Back in 1990, the NYTimes ran an article letting us know that syphilis was making its comeback.  Surging, in fact.  Long believed to be in decline, the disease had gotten little attention and doctors knew surprisingly little about it as a result.  It is apparently notoriously hard to diagnose.  Yet after Trump’s recent press conference, the New Republic ran an article arguing that his behavior matched up well with late stage syphilis.

Let’s assume that Trump doesn’t have syphilis, there being no evidence that he does.  Let’s take this not as a diagnosis, but simply as one description of his demeanor.  More restrained coverage characterized his press conference as unhinged – this is a word I saw often.  Also bizarre and vapid.  Also petulant and egomaniacal.  And yet his supporters, watching this very same performance, apparently loved it.

One of the things Trump suggested, one of the many things Trump said, was that representatives need only care about the needs and opinions of the people who voted for them.  This was in reference to angry town halls.  And a recent PEW poll found an approval rating for Trump of about 84% among Republican voters.

So there’s your partisan divide.  On one side, people see a man whose behavior is not caused by but is consistent with the symptoms of tertiary syphilis.

On the other, people see the well-informed, hope-inspiring president they’ve always wanted.

You can’t even see from here to there.

That first step is a doozy.

I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation – Bob Dylan, Eve of Destruction.


Heathcliff weather today.  When Lily and I took our morning walk, the rain was light, but the wind was a fist in the face.  The ocean was all chop and foam and the air tasted salty.  Few people out and Lily was the only dog tough enough, though to be completely honest, she did suggest returning home whenever we came to a fork in the road.  But she didn’t insist.  Because the wind on the cliff was so strong, we turned inland and took the Bethany path home through the neighborhoods.  Flooded gutters below us and sodden crows above.

I have a confession.  The bottom steps at Its Beach have not washed away, because of course they haven’t.  I was operating under the Holmes dictum, when you have eliminated the impossible, etc etc.  This reasoning led me to an erroneous conclusion and once I posted it, I became a Fake Newser.  I don’t like the company I’m keeping.  So here is the real story:  The sand shifted so profoundly that a four foot drop to the beach opened up.  The stairs are all still there.  They just hover above the ground.



                      The invisible hand never picks up the check, notes Kim Stanley Robinson in his wonderful forthcoming novel, New York 2140.

float like a butterfly

We don’t have the power, but we never say never

We’ve had a string of sunny days, beautiful weather, glorious weather. The park is still hard to navigate as many of the paths are now waterways and Lily and I return from our walks with muddy paws. But the sky is full of butterflies and birdsong. It amazes me that, emerging from a series of storms which uprooted trees, killed people on the highways, caused mudslides and road closures all through the county, washed away the enormous concrete steps down to Its Beach, the monarchs are still here, fluttering softly about. No wind so strong, no rain so hard.

On Sunday, many people and dogs were out in the park and along the cliff walks. Locals, I’m guessing, since no one else could get here. On Friday, it took me three hours to drive home from the San Jose airport because I couldn’t go through the mountains, but had to go around. I’d been back in Washington at the AWP where I got to be on a panel and then have dinner with the wonderful Hannah Tinti, the wonderful Jennifer Egan, and the wonderful Ron Charles. All thanks to my wonderful Penguin Speakers Agency.

I flew back via Phoenix and John McCain was on my airplane. He flew coach and had a middle seat, which impressed me. He slept the whole way, which was cunning, as I’d been considered sharing a few of my thoughts with him if the chance presented. At a festival recently in Palm Springs, an author who studies and writes about the CIA, said twice in my company that John McCain and James Comey were all that stood between us and the apocalypse and because I feel both those men have also brought on the apocalypse, I let my irritation prevent me from asking what he meant, which I now regret. I can think of many other people I would rather have serving as my country’s last line of defense.

Meanwhile, Russia! Flynn! North Korea! Iran! Ivanka’s clothing line! In the days ahead, we must all be as tough as butterflies.


Feb 7

Idiot wind
Blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol — Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind

Here is what I didn’t want for my birthday: the Betsy DeVos confirmation. Can I return it? Can I repeal and replace?
Here is a fact: So-called President Trump could be stopped at any time if there were Republicans willing to genuinely oppose his tyrannical, megalomaniacal incompetence. The Democrats have shown flickers of occasional courage, but they can do little beyond briefly gumming up the works. Only the Republicans can stop this.
We are not fooled by the Murkowski and Collins’ votes today, as these two women could have actually prevented DeVos if they’d wanted to. We are not fooled by McCain and Graham’s intermittent squealings. Until there are actual consequences, this remains a parlor charade.
Many of us have long wondered where the line is past which the Republican party will not go. We are learning that there is no line.

a Groundhog Day unlike any other


Cause it’s all in the hands of a bitter, bitter man
Say good-bye to the world you thought you lived in  – Mika, Any Other World

I attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC. I was nervous as we (the we pictured below) drove in, because I expected traffic jams and difficulties and there were none. This made me worry that, perhaps because there were so many more convenient marches being held all over the world, no one was showing up for this one. Even when we were in the thick of things, I had no sense of how many of us there were. It was a jolt of joy to see the aerial photographs and read the estimated numbers. And to see the turnouts in London, LA, San Francisco, Antarctica, etc etc etc. I spent one evening thinking, they can’t possibly ignore us. We are legion. But waking up the next morning, I remembered that of course they would ignore us. There is much talk these days of the forgotten Americans, but I too have spent most of my political life feeling ignored. One thing I noticed, particularly during and after the Iraq war, was the disappearance of genuinely leftist voices from the airwaves. God bless Amy Goodman, but she can’t do this alone.

Three weeks have passed and it’s been a cascade of horrors, designed by their sheer number and audacity to render us speechless. I credit President Bannon with that shock-and-overwhelm strategy, though I have no way of knowing for sure. Whenever so-called President Trump appears, he appears hapless and bewildered. I wish Frederick Douglass would give that man a good talking to.
Anyone who believed in the myth of the principled Republican Congressman has learned, yet again, not to do that. A few will raise their voices. None will withhold their votes. The disastrous raid in Yemen will never be given the Benghazi treatment. The possibility of collusion between the campaign and the Russians will never be explored with the joyous zeal directed to Clinton’s emails. We’ll learn the truth on the same timetable that has recently confirmed that Nixon cratered the Vietnam peace process. The white supremacists have taken their seats on the National Security Council, replacing the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and no one has stopped it. The despicable Jason Chaffetz has decided that Trump’s conflicts of interest are of no interest. Trump is being treated as the imperial leader he believes himself to be.
I do credit the conservatives in the media and the military and the justice system who are speaking out and speaking plainly against this. But none of these principled conservatives hold seats in Congress.  I am watching those Democrats who betray their constituency. I will remember their votes.
I would so like to talk about other things. The surprising surplus of rain we are having in Santa Cruz. The enormous stone steps that appear to have simply washed away on Its Beach. The pleasures of being up at sunrise to walk along the ocean with a happy dog at my feet and the sky filled with gulls and chevrons of pelicans. But everywhere I look, everything I read, everywhere I go, I see a world in peril.  Except when I look here.  How does anyone without a dog survive this world?IMG_0178